Back to School Vouchers

Published on: February 2024

Record: HANSARD-1323879322-138567

Back to School Vouchers

Ms ELENI PETINOS (Miranda) (17:03:56):

I move:

That this House:

(1)Notes that the former Liberal-Nationals Government's Back to School voucher program provided families with vital cost‑of‑living relief in the form of $150 in vouchers to help with the cost of school supplies, uniforms and technology.

(2)Notes that New South Wales families are bearing the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis created by State and Federal Labor's economic mismanagement.

(3)Condemns the Minns Labor Government for cutting the Back to School voucher program to fund a $9.5 billion union pay deal.

(4)Condemns the Deputy Premier's comments on 14 January 2024 when she described support for working families as a "cash splash".

(5)Notes that on 15 January 2024 the Premier said that Back to School vouchers "haven't been changed".

(6)Calls on the New South Wales Government to honour the Premier's comment and reinstate funding for Back to School vouchers for the 2024 school year.

I would not have thought that it is a particularly controversial concept that people in our communities have relied on Back to School vouchers to help ease the cost of living during what is a very expensive time for families. Countless people across my electorate have written to me in response to the Liberal Party and The Nationals petitions we have been running calling on the community to help us save Back to School vouchers. Person after person has given us examples of why it is important. Martine of Caringbah said:

Thank you for this. The labor govt should know how interest rates have increased and its impacts on families - this was a cruel hit. Sadly I've heard of some families dropping sports also due to finances. Sport and fitness should be key to every child growing up to be aware of their health for the future.

Michelle of Sylvania said:

Would love the back to school voucher to return they help so much with the returning to school expenses.

Lauren of Caringbah said:


Finally, Jay of Miranda said:

Having these vouchers gave our family a massive financial relief during an extremely stressful start to the year. We definitely feel it this year with now 4 children starting high school and primary school.

It is quite clear that members opposite do not care, and I do not understand why when so many people in their communities have redeemed those important vouchers in the past. Those vouchers ensure that every child is equipped with the essential items they need to succeed in the new school year. Despite that, the Minns Labor Government has stripped away support for the program in the same way it has stripped away support for every other significant voucher program that our communities have relied on—whether it be Active Kids, Creative Kids or even the First Lap voucher programs. Think of the children. In this Chamber those opposite all talk about the importance of the next generation but, when push comes to shove, they lack the advocacy and the guts to stand up to their Premier to reinstate the vouchers. found that, on average, parents paid $2,547 per primary school child per year and $4,793 on secondary students when costs like tuition fees, camps, excursions, sporting equipment and transport costs are taken into account. Yet those opposite think it is okay to take away $150 per child when families are struggling more than ever with the increased cost of living. I will take a moment to highlight the importance and the take-up of these vouchers in some Labor electorates. The member for Parramatta should know that over 118,000 vouchers were redeemed in full in her electorate. The member for Riverstone had over 141,000 vouchers redeemed in his electorate. The member for Liverpool had over 105,000 vouchers—she is shaking her head at me. That shows a clear disregard for the families who have relied on redeeming those vouchers.

The Deputy Premier, when asked about it, described the Back to School voucher program as a "cash splash" and blamed the former Government for it not being included in the budget. But the reality is that those opposite are in government. It is a shame, but they are. That is democracy in action. But they have failed, after a budget round, to put the vouchers in their budget. It was in ours and it is not in theirs. They have had every opportunity to reinstate the vouchers. On 17 January the Premier publicly said, "Back to school vouchers haven't been changed." The Premier says they have not been changed. The Deputy Premier says it is a cash splash. Clearly there is a misalignment between the two. But all that matters for the hardworking people of New South Wales is that they are worse off. They have no back to school vouchers. Most of them have no Active Kids vouchers, no Creative Kids vouchers, and First Lap vouchers have been slashed as well.

All we get from those opposite are cuts, cuts and more cuts. That is all they know how to do. At the end of the day, all they do is find money to give to their union mates to reward them for helping them get into government, and the people who pay the price are the hardworking mums and dads across this State who are struggling to make ends meet. Cost‑of‑living pressures are at an all‑time high. The Government can do little things that help families—$50 vouchers at a time, $150 for this program alone—but instead, Chris Minns and Labor simply cut the vouchers, and those opposite cannot even be bothered to speak up to defend it.

Mrs SALLY QUINNELL (Camden) (17:10:57):

I speak in opposition to the motion. I start by clarifying that when the Liberal‑Nationals Government's back to school voucher program was announced it was quite clearly stated to be a one‑off payment.

Mr Dugald Saunders:

Where? How? How was it stated? Where was it stated?


It was in your press release. Therefore, things have not been changed. It was a one‑off payment.


The member for Coffs Harbour will come to order.


On this side of the House we are focused on restoring public education to its former glory—before the Coalition Government stripped it dry. We are looking at providing free, quality education for all in our public schools. It is important that people are given a choice. People in my electorate have been affected by a lack of high schools in their area. What has been happening is privatisation by stealth. The former Government did not build the high schools our growing communities needed. People have had no choice but to take their children to the nearest private school because there is no public school to attend within distance. Comments have been made that imply teachers did not deserve their recent pay rise and that they need to earn it.

As a former teacher myself, I think it needs to be made perfectly clear that public schools and public school teachers are providing everything that students need to have a quality education. Parents who cannot afford to buy their child a school uniform can speak to their school and be provided with one. Similarly, they can be provided with a schoolbag, pencils, pens, books, paper and shoes—everything the student needs. Teachers will go out of their way to provide such things. We need to remove the stigma and shame around families saying, "I'm struggling. I need to be able to get that." No teacher that I know would ever deny a student the resources they need for their schooling. In fact, all of the schools I have been associated with have gone out of their way to provide things students needed in order for them to have a proper education.

We need to remove any shame around families asking their school for help, so as to be able to provide a quality education product for their children. Schools do so much more than provide resources for children. They provide mental health support and learning support, which are not covered by the voucher system. We need to fund our public schools and support our teachers so that they are not so exhausted. Teachers are the lifeblood of our schools. The former Coalition Government made so many cuts to education during its time that in one of the schools in my electorate on one particular Friday in 2021, 75 classes did not have a teacher. There was no teacher available.

Ms Felicity Wilson:

Shame, Labor!

Ms Charishma Kaliyanda:

Shame on you!


Yes, 100 per cent shame on those opposite, because teachers had walked away and without teachers there is no education.

Mr Dugald Saunders:

Point of order: My point of order is on relevance under Standing Order 129. This motion is about back to school vouchers; it is not about teachers.


I am satisfied that the member is being relevant.


The motion we are debating today is insulting to everyone involved in our public school system and to everyone who is trying to provide a quality public education for children in New South Wales. A healthy public school system is the lifeblood of our future.

Ms FELICITY WILSON (North Shore) (17:16:06):

I thank the member for Miranda for bringing this public interest motion to the House today. It is a special time for students. What an amazing education system we have here in New South Wales. Most of us have come through that system and done pretty well. We all have families and friends who are enjoying our school system. I say a big thanks to our teachers and school staff. What they have done to make these first couple of weeks special for students starting school is phenomenal. I thank everyone involved in making the New South Wales education system so strong and for providing our students the future that we all want them to have.

But it is also a particularly challenging time for families. Families across New South Wales and the country are doing it tough. Yesterday it was announced that further increases in interest rates can be expected if inflation is not kept under control. Families across the board are finding it tough. The average cost of annual school supplies for a primary school student is more than $650. That is particularly challenging for families. I acknowledge the contribution of the member for Camden. I know that she was a music teacher. I thank her for everything she has done for students in her previous career—but maybe not in this one. I thank the member for bringing to our attention the support that families at real risk of poverty can access from schools, and for letting people know that if they are really struggling to afford basic resources that their school will help.

But the bigger challenge at the moment is that it is not only families in poverty who are struggling. Families across the board are struggling. Some can afford most of the school supplies, but not all of them. These families are struggling to meet all of the cost‑of‑living expenses they are facing. The voucher program relieved some of that financial pressure for them, and more families every day are finding it more and more challenging to meet their expenses. Not every school will have the capacity to meet the needs of every family that is struggling. The vouchers filled some of that void.

In its first budget, the Minns Government has cut the voucher program. As the member for Miranda said, this is not just a one‑off cut to support families who are struggling in this cost‑of‑living crisis; it is compounded by the cuts to the First Lap voucher scheme. Let us remember that that was a scheme brought in to significantly increase the number of three‑year‑olds and four‑year‑olds having swimming lessons in a country bound by water, where drowning is a significant risk to small children. Swimming classes can cost about $200 per term. That is $800 a year for one child to get them the lifesaving skills and swimming capabilities they need as a New South Welshman to be able to survive the risks of our rivers, our beaches and our backyard pools.

Then they are cutting Active Kids and Creative Kids. We know that the jobs and skills of the future will be about creativity, versatility and problem-solving. Given our huge challenges with childhood obesity, Active Kids is about ensuring that, regardless of financial capabilities, kids can be involved in a sport or athletic club and develop those skills. Once again, it is a decision by a government that does not consider families, the challenges we face in ensuring that kids can access what they need every day or kid's rights to that access.

Every part of Sydney and New South Wales will utilise these types of vouchers very differently. It is a difficult decision. It is a fiscal-balancing decision that governments have, that the Opposition had when we were in government and that the new Labor Government has about priorities. The decision that the Labor Government has made is to deprioritise families, children and the things the previous Liberal-Nationals Government said were crucial for children and families. That is their decision. They won the election; they get to make that choice. But they cannot walk away from that prioritisation and the decision they made. They need to own it and be up-front about it.

If they decide that other things are more important than ensuring that kids have financial support to get back to school, or Active Kids or Creative Kids vouchers, or life-saving swimming lessons, they need to own that and be up-front with our community and the voters in every electorate. They need to make sure that they let people know what they are choosing to prioritise instead. If they are cutting all those cost-saving voucher programs for families, what is being funded instead? Where are our taxpayer dollars going to ensure that people get the best bang for their buck from this Government? I say that we are not getting the best bang for our buck from this Government. They are not returning the investment the people of New South Wales made in the Minns Labor Government when it was elected last year. This Government needs to be held to account, and we need to ensure that it does better for our kids and families.

Ms CHARISHMA KALIYANDA (Liverpool) (17:21:15):

I listened with interest to the member for Miranda. She has suddenly woken up to the fact that families are doing it tough in New South Wales. Anyone who has spoken to, and been actively involved in, their communities would know that it is an ongoing issue. After being the architects of the running down of the education system, health system and many other public institutions that families and communities across this State rely on, members opposite have the gall to turn up and talk about priorities.


Members will come to order.


Let me tell them what their priorities were in the previous term of government. They conveniently left this Labor Government with $188 million worth of debt. Members opposite love to talk about cuts. They love to talk about the fact that it was communities across south-west and north-west Sydney—Labor communities—that they often cut vital resources from. Some members opposite have also conveniently forgotten that this was a one-off commitment. Let me remind them.

Ms Eleni Petinos:

Prove it.


I will, because the member for Miranda has obviously forgotten it. On 21 June 2022, then finance Minister Damien Tudehope said "a one-off $150 back-to-school subsidy for every child undertaking primary or secondary school in 2023". Also, the Leader of the Opposition, on 29 January 2024, refused to commit to bringing them back. Ben Fordham said, "So you're not even promising to return them?" The Leader of the Opposition said, "Well, I'm not going to promise three years out." Members opposite have obviously conveniently forgotten this was a one-off commitment. As they said, it is important for a government to set priorities and direct funding and resources into the areas of the community where they will most make a difference. Let me tell them about the types of priorities that this Government is committing funds towards. We were talking about the important role that teachers have within our community. For 12 years under the Coalition Government, teachers were disrespected.


The member for Dubbo and member for Tamworth will come to order.


They felt like they did not matter and were leaving, and had left, the profession in droves. Contrast that with last week when I visited Cecil Hills High School in my electorate with the Minister for Education and Early Learning, and Deputy Premier. A teacher had retired from the profession saying, "I feel disrespected. I do not feel like I can make a contribution to this profession anymore." He was contacted after the change in government and after the new Minister put respect for teachers back at the heart of public education. He said, "I will come back to the profession. I will come back to teaching in public schools." Under this Government, not only are many such teachers returning to the workforce under the teacher retention program but we also have the highest paid graduate teachers in the country. That is an indicator that public education is a central priority for this Government.


Members will come to order.


Under the Opposition; however, not only did we have disrespect for teachers but we also had a 35 per cent increase in demountables. At schools like Castle Hill High School, there were 19 demountables. At Carlingford West Public School, there were 64 demountables and at Cumberland High School there were 26. In the growing parts of Sydney such as the south‑west and north-west, in the regions and in many of the communities that are doing it tough, we inherited a situation where whole suburbs of tens of thousands of families existed without access to free public education.


The member for Dubbo and member for Tamworth will come to order.


Some of the schools in my community stepped up over the past few years to put more than their fair share back into the communities they support. Soon after I was elected, I spoke to a deputy principal of a high school in my electorate who told me that they get allocated a discretionary budget. Usually that goes towards funding an extra teaching position. They could not find teachers to fill that position so they put it towards providing students with the necessities such as breakfast and uniforms. Like I said, members opposite forget the priorities they had for 12 years. [.]

Mr GURMESH SINGH (Coffs Harbour) (17:26:27):

You would have to be living under a rock, or be a Labor government, not to realise that we are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. Families are facing the double whammy of high inflation and high interest rates. Families are forced to make choices meaning that children across New South Wales are missing out because of this mean Minns Labor Government. Everywhere I go, I am being approached by parents lamenting the Labor Government's axing of the Back to School, Active Kids, Creative Kids and learn‑to‑swim vouchers—all of the cost-of-living measures that were helping families across New South Wales.

The data shows that the average cost of school supplies for primary school students is now more than $650 per child. Like the member for North Shore, my youngest son started kindergarten this week. The cost is even greater for high school students. That is a lot of extra money for families to find in one go. That means that children across New South Wales are missing out. One of the great benefits of the scheme was that, although it did not cover all of the costs associated with going back to school, families on tighter budgets could afford the basics. It meant that students were afforded the dignity of being in the right school uniform or having the right shoes. It was a great leveller.

We have to question the moral compass of a Labor Party that supports cage fighting but guts the cost‑of‑living measures that helped families with basics like education. But it is nothing new from the Minns Labor Government. After promising to roll over the Active Kids vouchers, it came to power and gutted those as well. Now kids across New South Wales are missing out on sport and physical activity. They are missing out on team work and camaraderie. Someone needs to explain to the Labor Party that when it comes to the health and wellbeing of children in New South Wales, prevention is better than cure.

Members opposite have lost interest. They are giggling over their phones now. Children learn so much from sport. It builds character. It builds physical and mental health. Yet they still cut the Active Kids program by 85 per cent.

Ms Trish Doyle:



Does the member for Blue Mountains dispute that number? Let us have a debate on that at the next sitting as well. In the Coffs Harbour electorate, 36,389 Back to School vouchers were redeemed. Across New South Wales, nearly 3.5 million vouchers were redeemed.

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